I know, you don’t expect to see “open source” and “law firms” in the same sentence unless it is discussing how a law firm is trying to find a way for its clients to claim copyright on something they built upon an open source product. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. I really wanted to discuss the idea of “how” a law firm could actually introduce open source products into the technology structure of a firm without the anxiety that generally comes along with such a plan.

A few days ago, an academic techie forwarded me an article on how some universities were going to replace their very expensive accounting software with an open source product called Kuali. I read the article in my typical fashion where I’m thinking “wow, what an opportunity” followed quickly by “guess this would never happen in a big law firm environment.” But then I read the part of the article that discussed how these universities were collaborating on this effort and would be basically sharing the pain of the implementation of the software. Now, there’s a novel concept!
I’m going to toss out any “antitrust” arguments for the moment and pitch the idea that law firm IT departments, along with the “powers-that-be” in the firm’s management could team up with their counterparts in other peer firms to work as a consortium in implementing large scale open source projects. Anyone that has worked in the so-called “BigLaw” sector knows that this is an industry that chases each others tails when it comes to technology. Many of us, when pitching a new product here this quote: “What other firms are also using this product?”
The accounting project that the academic institutions are collaborating is a perfect example of bringing in open source software into the institution. This product is something that is a “behind the scenes” product – in that it is used by the administrative staff rather than by the entire institution. So, this would be a much better test project than replacing Microsoft Office Suite with one of the open source alternatives.
So, the next time you have lunch with one of your peers from another firm, float the idea of collaborating on a open source project between your firms. See if you can get a few more firms on board as well. Test something small (for God’s sakes don’t start off with the accounting overhaul I mentioned above!!) Perhaps something like collaborating on creating an Enterprise 2.0 project , such as the ‘Unity’ Enterprise 2.0 Project that Lockheed created using open source products, and figuring out a way to manage the project in a way that all of the firms collaborating learn from one another, and share the pain and triumph of deploying a new product without the huge expense of working with one of the major vendors. If you can team up with other firms, then you’ve already got an answer when a partner asks “what other firms are doing this.”